A classic rivalry was renewed last night, as the Arkansas State Red Wolves traveled down I-55 and I-40 to take on the reigning American Athletic Conference champion Memphis Tigers in what was the season opener for both teams.
The Red Wolves started the game on offense with senior Jamal Jones starting at the running-back position with a couple of strong runs to put A-State into Memphis territory early, and after a crucial pass interference penalty brought A-State to the five-yard line, Ryan Graham found the end-zone with a single-yard touchdown run.
Memphis almost instantly responded with a huge kickoff return into Red Wolves territory, but a holding call brought that back and erased almost fifty yards. But the Tigers would not be denied with multiple plays earning double digit yards, primarily on the ground, earning a touchdown after QB Brady White connected to TE Sean Dykes to tie things up at seven.
After a couple of three-and-outs for both sides, the Red Wolves sent Layne Hatcher in at quarterback to instant success, connecting with Dahu Green to break into Tiger territory after two plays. Jonathon Adams dropped what would’ve been a phenomenal touchdown catch, but Jamal Jones rectified that error by breaking off a big run to put the Red Wolves within touching distance of the end-zone and Isaiah Azubuike finished things off with another one-yard run up the middle into the end-zone to put A-State back on top: 14-7.
It didn’t take long for Memphis to bring things back level, taking just about three minutes to carve up the Red Wolves defense and Rodrigues Clark, the man who replaced Kory Gainwell at the running-back position, broke off for a 12 yard run to tie the game at 14.
The first turnover of the game came soon after, as Logan Bonner was picked by Xavier Cullens while throwing under pressure. A-State came up big on defense however, and Memphis kicker Riley Patterson failed to connect a 54 yard field goal to keep things tied up.
The pace slowed for the remainder of the quarter, until White led the Tigers on a two minute drill and cashed in with seconds remaining in the half, connecting with Calvin Austin III, to take the lead for the Tigers for the first time in the game.
Memphis opened the second half in catastrophic fashion, as Brady White threw his first interception of the game under pressure to Detravion Green, who impressively came down with the ball and both feet just inbounds. This gave the Red Wolves great field position, but head coach Blake Anderson elected to go conservative on fourth and two, sending Blake Grupe in to knock in a 28 yard field goal, cutting into but not matching the Tigers’ lead: 21-17.
In what might have been the most egregious mistake of the game, A-State decided to go for an onside kick which ended up with Memphis taking over at midfield. The Tigers seized the opportunity with great field position and White threw his third touchdown pass of the game to Damonte Coxie to extend Memphis’ lead to ten.
The avalanche continued, as a fumble lost at midfield from the Red Wolves gave Memphis fantastic field position once again and, once again, the Tigers cashed in as Dykes caught his second touchdown of the game, extending Memphis’ lead to 34-17.
To pour salt in the wound, Memphis pulled off a 25 yard fake punt run while inside its own 20 yard line, extending its drive and further dashing the hopes of Red Wolves fans. That drive ended in a chip shot field goal for the Tigers, extending its lead to 20.
A-State would find some fight left in them however, taking advantage of a lot of space that the Memphis defense provided, and capping off its fourth scoring drive with its third one-yard touchdown play of the night as Bonner connected to tight end TW Ayres.
Ultimately, a final effort offensive drive fell short in the red zone as the Red Wolves turned the ball over on downs with two minutes remaining, and Memphis entered victory formation and claimed the 37-24 win.
Logan Bonner claimed the lion’s share of playtime this week at the quarterback position, throwing 14-23, 133 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Meanwhile, Brady White had a field day, throwing for 275 yards, four touchdowns and a single interception.
Arkansas State fell to 0-1 to start the season, and will continue playing tough non-conference competition in the Big 12’s Kansas State next weekend.
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